Web-to-print is widely used in the commercial print market, where it is deemed an accepted way of doing business. But in the wide-format market, that’s not the case. Web-to-print software and platforms supporting wide- and grand-format printing projects are few and far between. But more and more, manufacturers are starting to provide software for this growing market segment.
Doug Ballinger can’t give a definitive answer as to why web-to-print software and platforms supporting wide-format aren’t seen in greater numbers. But Ballinger, president of San Mateo, CA-based PageDNA, whose software is used to create online storefronts, does have a few educated guesses.
“I’m guessing part of it is that a lot of wide-format printing is sold in fewer pieces,” he said. “There’s no reason wide-format guys can’t use our software, but they may not have enough business from a given customer to justify it, or may not see the value other printers do in having an online storefront. The value people find in our storefront relates to products ordered routinely, even daily.”
In other words, a big issue in justifying the use of an online storefront has to do with order frequency, as well as with products Ballinger calls “versioned.”
If the purchasing frequency is high, and if the product is of the type that begins with a template and lets clients retain most of the template’s repeatable elements while ordering customized versions that make it their own, online storefronts provide more value, Ballinger reports. An example of a versioned product, he said, might be a poster for a national retail chain that can be ordered by each of the chain‘s stores, customized with each store’s names and hours.
Michael Rottenborn, president and CEO of Philadelphia’s Hybrid Integration, a four-year-old maker of GoPrint and GoSign, believes a different factor was involved in delaying wide-format imaging companies’ entry into web-to-print. “We think web-to-print is very well suited to wide-format, as long as the portal can accept very large graphic files from a variety of sources,” he said.
“I think file size was a big driver [of the delay in adoption to web-to-print]. When you’re talking about huge graphics, files get very, very large. We needed networks and portals that could manage those very large files. The technology has been evolving over the years, and it’s finally here.”
At Foster City, CA-based EFI, meantime, Digital StoreFront product manager Dave Minnick sees the delay as one that reflects a slower adoption of digital technology in the wide-format segment. “It was once an analog market, and now is fully embracing digital,” he said. “It’s a natural progression [to web-to-print], and one we saw in the commercial printing market as well.”
What can web-to-print do for wide-format print providers? Well, first of all, it can take products directly to the buyer, Minnick said. “It allows direct contact with the customer, and it allows for automation of the order process, which can save the printer money, while also adding value,” he reported.
Added Gerald Walsh, market development director for EFI’s Advanced Professional Print Software (APPS) division: “The printer can now provide the buyer with a catalog, which can be customized to that buyer.”
Let’s say a wide-format provider is working with client ABC Auto Parts, which needs display graphics for all eight of its stores. The individual locations can access the website and order those graphics. Let’s say the ABC store in South Minneapolis wants its graphic to bear its address as well. An online storefront like EFI Digital StoreFront can handle that, Walsh said. “We can set up catalogs for ABC Auto, and make it easy for them to do their buying, and for corporate to track buying from multiple locations,” he said. “And because it’s not a manual handoff, it’s going from Digital StoreFront to the management system and on into production, which can be a touch-less workflow throughout.”